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Full text of "The force of habit : a discourse delivered to the students of the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill, March 31st, 1833, and by them solicited for publication"

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University of North Carolina^ 



By l¥illiaiii Hooper, 


Nemo repente turpissimus fuit. Jut. 

No man e'er reached the heights of vice at first — 

By just degrees we mount from crime to crime. 

And perfect villain is the work of time: 

Never let man be bold enough to say, 

Thus and no farther shall my passion stray; 

The first crime past, compels us on to more, 

And guilt proves fate, which was but choice before. 








I dedicate this Discourse to your service. At your request I have 
submitted it to the press. As a literary effort I am sensible it pre- 
sents no claims to such partiality j but as containing important truths, 
worthy of being often held up before your minds and reflected upon 
again and again, I have thought it might not be entirely undeserving 
to pass into a form that should give it a chance of more durable utility 
than mere evanescent utterance — s^rs* Tm^otvra. — can ever effect. God 
grant that the considerations here urged upon you, may frequently 
recur to you in the hour of need. I have labored many years in 
endeavoring to communicate classical learning to the youth of North 
Carolina; but all that I have done in that way affords me less com- 
fort in the retrospect, than the possibility that something I may have 
said in the sacred desk, has had a share in forming a youthful heart 
to virtue, and leading it to seek acquaintance with God. If in the 
course of my connexion with the young men of this State, I have met 
with any success of this kind, I must esteem it as my most precious 
earthly reward, and the most valuable fame I could inherit. 


Jeh. xiii. 23. " Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leoparcThis spots' 
Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." 

I shall take occasion from these striking words of Scripture to 
address you, my hearers, on The force of Habit. You all know- 
that a habit is formed by the repetition of any act, until, by frequency 
and long familiarity, it becomes easy and natural. Hence it has 
grown into a proverb that ''habit is a second nature." Of how much 
moment then must it be, to mark with especial vigilance, and to gtiartl 
with especial care, that season of life, when the habits begin to be 
formed, and the character is beginning to assume that shape which it 
will carry through the whole of our earthly sojourn, and v/hich will 
affect our destiny for eternity! It is because most of my audience 
are at this critical period of their lives, that I think no subject on 
which I could possibly address them, is more appropriate to their 
condition? no one, which could more justly claim their deep and 
serious reflection. It is not merely to fulfil a customary round of 
duty 5 it is not merely to occupy you the usual time with the expetted 
pulpit performance, and then to let you go away, our minds being 
well satisfied if the end be gained of having kept up for another Sab- 
bath the decent observance of our religion, and ot having thrown out 
some thoughts acceptable to your present hearing. No, my friendsj 
We aim at something more than this barrer? discharge of a periodical 
duty, or this half-hour's occupation of your minds. It is with the ^ 
cherished hope and the fervent prayer that something may be dropped 
at this time, which may occur to your meditations at many a future 
day, and have some operation in regulating those habits which are 
now fixing themselves upon you, that I have chosen the words of the 
text, as the subject of my present address. "Can the Ethiopian 
change his skin, or the leopard his spots?" exclaims God by the 
mouth of the prophet to his people, now biecome obstinate and invete- 

rate in thur wickedness: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or 
the leopard his spots? Then may yc also do good, that are accustomed 
todo evil." Here the doctrine is taught that when habits of evil are 
formed, they cleave to us with as close and inseparable a tenacity as 
the complexion of our skin 5 and that you might as well expect the 
African, by an act of his will, to become white, or the leopard to 
change his spotty hide, as to expect those addicted to sinful courses 
to renounce them, and to become good. The comparison is certainly 
a most striking and forcible one, and conveys little less than the 
absolute impossibility and hopelessness of a recovery from vicious 
habits. I will not go so far as to say, that by likening moral refor- 
mation to two natural impossibilities, the divine word means to pro- 
nounce moral reformation to be utterly impossible. But this I may 
safely say, that by the comparison, God evidently intends to teach us that 
a return from evil habits is extremely difficult and improbable, and 
would be almost as miraculous a dapiir^iyre from the usual laws of 
the moral world, as the voluntary assumption of a new skin by the 
Ethiopian or the leopard, would be from the laws of the physical 
world. So our Saviour declared the salvation of a rich man to be 
more difficult than the passage of a camel through a needle's eye — a 
natut;^! impossibility! but v.t the same time brought the case within 
the reach of divine omnipotence and mercy, saying that "with men. 
such a thing was impossible, but not with God." Most certain is it, 
then, that the Maker of our frame here calls upon us to mark and 
take notice of an important- and most inflexible law of our moral 
constitution, to wit, that what we are made by long habit, that 
observation of human nature abundantly confirms the doctrine, and 
proves that men are carried onward by old habits with a certainty 
and fatality almost as rigid as that which propels the rivers onward to 
the ocean. Let none complain of this law of our nature. Let nom 
say, why was man madr sq much the creature and slave of habit, 
that when once entangled, he loses all power to extricate himself. "We 
might as well quarrel with the law of gravitation which destroys the 
life of a man who flings himself from the top of a precipice. The 
same law of physical nature which makes the fall from a precipice 
fatal, and which brings down heavy bodies with destructive force 
upon thousands ol human beings, that same law holds the earth in its 
orbit, binds all its millions of inhabitants to th6ir homes upon its 
surface, makes the showers descend to gladden the fields, and rolls the 

waters that would otherwise stagnate and poison us, with healthful 
currents to their mighty reservoir. 

Nor is this moral law, whose stubborn strength is so much usom- 
plained of, less a proof of the wisdom of the author of nature than the 
other, nor is it less remarkable for its salutary than for its pernicious 
effects. It is by habit that all the most necessary acts of life are 
rendered easy and pleasant. By habit we learn to walk, to speak, 
to read and write, to perform all manual operations with facility and 
despatch. By the power of habit are all those acts carried on which 
minister to the wants and conveniences of life. By the power of 
habit is the printer enabled to combine liis types into words, with a 
rapidity astonishing to the eye and surpassing all previous belief, and 
to prepare for us those thousands of volumes which are continually 
filling the world with intelligence and delight. 

This same principle of our constitution, is no less subservient to 
the passive, than to the active powers of man. It enables us to en- 
dure with ease, hardships that were at first intolerable. If 
enables man to breathe with impunity the pestiferous atmosphere of 
crowded manufactories, to reside in every climate, and after spend- 
ing half his life among northern snows, to go and spend the remainder 
in the torrid zone. 

Now let us mark the influence of tliis powerful law of nature upon 
our moral conduct. We find from personal experience, and we 
know from observations on our fellow men, that our natural appetites 
acquire strength from every indulgence^ that at first it is compara- 
tively easy to restrain them within lawful barriers^ but that habits of 
excess render them imperious and uncontrollable, so that we are 
dragged on after them, as by an invisible chain, whose strength bids 
defiance to all our resistance. This is the case with respect to our 
natural appetites. And it holds equally in relation to our artificial 
appetites. A man may contract such an appetite for tobacco, opium, 
or ardent spirits, as to crave these naturally distasteful articles with 
a rage of desire, equal to natural hunger and thirst.. It is mercifully 
provided, however, by the constitution of our nature, that habit may 
be made as powerful an auxiliary to virtue as to vice. By means of 
it not only sensual appetites and evil passions become dominant and 
irresistable, but the numerous train of virtues, to which our nature is 
less inclined, and the incipient practice of which requires so much heroic 
resolution and self-denial, all these feel the benign force of habit, and 
become in time, not only easier of performance, but as fixed and eer- 


tain in their operation on our conduct*, as are any of our natural in- 
stincts. We are then creatures of habit. Whatever becomes ha- 
bitual becomes easy, whether it be virtue or vice. "Whenever we have 
formed a habit, we seem to act almost mechanically in obedience to 
the habit without an effort of the will. Indeed, so prone are we to repeat 

*The reader will thank me for enriching my page with the following profound 
observations. " Experience," says Mr. Stewart, "diminishes the influence of 
passive impressions on the mind, but strengthens our active principles. A 
course of debauchery deadens the sense of pleasure, but increases the desire of 
gratification. An immoderate use of strong liquors destroys the sensibility of 
the palate, but strengthens the habit of intemperance. The enjoyments we de- 
rive from any favorite pursuit, gradually decay as we advance in years: and yet 
we continue to prosecute our favorite pursuits with increasing steadiness and 
vigor. On these two laws of our nature, is founded our capacity of moral im- 
provement. In proportion as we are accustomed to obey our sense of duty, 
the influence of the temptations to vice is diminished^ while at the same time 

our habit of virtuous conduct is confirmed It is thus that the character of 

the beneficent man is formed. The passive impressions which he felt originally 
and which counteracted his sense of duty, have lost their influence, and a habit of 
beneficence is become a part of bis nature. ...We might naturally be led to sus- 
pect that the )'oung and unpractised would be more disposed to perform bene- 
ficent actions, than those who are advanced in life, and who have been familiar 
with scenes of misery. And, in truth, the fact would be so, were it not that 
the eff"ect of custom on thi? passive impression is counteracted by its effects on 
others; and above all by its influence in strengthening the active habits of bene- 
ficence. An. old and experienced physician is less affected by tlie sight of 
bodily pain than a younger practitioner; but he has acquired a more confirmed 
habit of assisting the sick and helpless, and would offer greater violence to his 
nature, if he should withhold from them any relief that he has in his power 
to bestow. In this case we see a beautiful provision made for our moral im- 
provement, as the effects of experience on one part of our nature are made to 
counteract its effects on another." — Philus. of the Mind, vol. 1, p. 386. 

These remarks of Stewart were suggested by the following passage in But- 
ler's Analogy. "From these two observations together, that practical habits 
are formed and strengthened by i-epeated acts; and that passive impressions 
grow weaker by being repeated upon us; it must follow that active habits may 
be gradually forming and strengthening, by a course of acting upon such and 
such motives and excitements, whilst these motives and excitements them- 
selves are, by proportionable degrees, growing less sensible, i. e. are contin- 
ually less and less sensibly felt, even as tlie active habits strengthen. And ex- 
perience confirms this: for active principles at the vei-y time they are less live- 
ly in perception than they were, are found to be, somehow, wrought more 
thoroughly into the temper and character, and become more effectual in in- 
fluencing our practice Let a man set himself to attend to, inquire out, and 

relieve distressed persons, and he cannot but grow less and less sensibly aftec- 
ted with the various miseries of life, with which he must become acquainted; 
when yet, at the same time, benevolence, considered not as a passion, but as 
a practical principle of action will strengthen, and whilst he passively compas- 
sionates the distressed less, he will acquire a greater aptitude actively to assist 
and befriend them," Stc. 

These remarks of both these profound and sagacious writers, I have been 
very willing to transfer to this place, at once to give a more durable value to 
this pamphlet than it would otherwise possess, and to tempt my young friends 
to dive for other pearls in the same deeps. 

9 ■ 

habitual actions, and so little reflection and virtuous resolutions are 
we conscious of in obeying good habits, that it seems as if they were 
hardly entitled to a moral character^ so nearly do they approach to 
being involuntary, like the play of our lungs and the beating of our 
heart. The time and sphere, then, for virtuous choice and virtuous 
determination, is in the outset of life. It consists in oft repeating 
those acts which lead to good and valuable habits, and in denying 
again and again, as often as they solicit us, those acts which lead to 
vicious habits. Here then my young friends take your stand. Re- 
sist the beginnings of evilj yes, the beginnings: that is the important 
juncture. Yield to the beginnings of evil, and you are undone.* 
Your ruin can be predicted with almost as much certainty, as that of 
the bark which is floating towards the cataract of Niagara. Are you 
now free, unfettered by the toils of vice? Give not up I beseech you, 
that glorious, that blessed freedom. Let not the persuasion of the 
miserable victims of vice involve you in their degradation. What! 
Would you let a slave persuade you for the sake of companionship, to 
share his chains and his stripes? Would you let a man, who was 
fool and madman enough, to set fire to his own house, persuade you 
to set fire to yours also, that you might both be in the same condition? 
How would you feel towards the man, who should seize your hand, 
run with you to the verge of a precipice, and then throvvinghimself over 
endeavor to pull you along with him? Would you not wrench your 
hand from his detested grasp, and recoil from him with horror and in- 
dignation? Yet you can smile with complacency upon the compan- 
ion, who, himself the slave of vice, would have you to forsake the 
paths of innocence, and join him in his wicked courses, merely that 
he may have countenance and society in vice! You can put yourself 
under the guidance and conduct of such a veteran in profligacy, if he 
will but take hold of your arm, say " come along," and laugh at yonr 
timorous scruples! Oh there are no words adequate to express the 
abhorrence due to those, who, not satisfied with being ruined them- 
selves, practice their accursed arts in seducing young and thoughtless 
minds from the paths of rectitude, and glory in the propagation of 
vice. If those who turn many to righteousness ihall receive an ex- 
traordinary reward, surely 

There is some chosen curse 

Some hidden thunder in the stores of heav'n, 
Red with uncommon wrath, to blast the man — 

* Principiis obsta; sero medicina paratur, 
Cum mala per longas invaluere moras. — Ovid. 


that finds an alleviation to his own misery in undoing others, or can 
look around with a devilish joy at the desolation he has spread. Yet 
it is to be feared that this enormity is often committed within Col- 
legiate walls, erected for the nursery and culture of all noble and 
generous sentiments. Yes; we are obliged to believe that here, even 
in this very place, are simple-hearted, unsuspecting, moral young 
men, vear after year, gradually contaminated by those who are older 
than tliemselves, and who instead of being their guides to virtue, use 
the influence of superior age to decoy them into sin.- Ye unfeeling 
seducers of youthful innocence ! Is it not enough that you feel, your- 
selves, the miseries of remorse? Have you so much malignity within 
you, as to find a solace to your pains in making others as wretched 
as yourselves? Is it not sufficient to stab the peace and wreck the 
hopes of your own parents, must you also stab the peace and wreck 
the hopes of other parents? Ah, if you have any pity or generosity 
left in your souls, if you would not, like satan, enter paradise, and 
blast, out of sheer envy, the purity and happiness you cannot partake, 
leave uncorrupted those who yet walk in their uprightness; who pro- 
mise to be the joy of their friends, and the hope of their country. If 
you must have companions of your guilty pleasures, take those who 
are already corrupted. Let those who take hands, and rush together 
into the vortex, and find a mad delight in riding round and round in 
the inebriate whirl of waters, which are just yawning to engulf them, 
let these, I say, be all equally ruined, equally bereft of conscience, 
equally lost to hope, with scowling despair written on their foreheads. 
Methinks it ought to melt with sorrow the heart of a young man, 
not lost to all sensations of humanity, to lead astray another younger 
than himself. Should we not suppose that honor and every kindly 
feeling of the soul would rise up in his bosom in behalf of yet untar- 
nished virtue, and induce him to thrust back from his company, the 
young proselyte who was ready to yield himself up to his ruinous ex- 
ample? How much more worthy would it be of every generous emo- 
tion, for those who have contracted any unhappy propensity, when 
they see others beginning to go the same way, rather to put them 
back, and say: " as for ourselves we cannot help indulging in these 
things, bat you who are yet safe, and notfatally bent towards these des- 
tructive courses, you we advise to keep yourselves far from them." 
This is no more than that common charity which we all show to each 
other, when we have unfortunately taken a disease. We tell how 
we contracted it, and cautiou others against the same imprudence. 


There are various evil habits to wiiich ycnr circumstances expose 
you, some of which I will mention, and leave it to your good sense 
and to your consciences to apply the same reasoning and expostula- 
tions against those which I may not mention, but which you know 
threaten to ensnare you. With respect to them all I beg you to carry 
along with you, ever fresh in your memory tliis admonition, that 
*' habit is a second nature," and that you may as soon expect any 
animal to act in a manner contrary to its nature, the lion to cat straw 
like the ox, i:nd the wolf and the Iamb to lie down in amity together, 
as for those to learn to do good Avho have been long accustomed to 
evil. Beware then, how you fall into the habit of what is wrong, 
and beware of the first act, lest that be the foundation of a habit — lest 
that give the soul an impulse from which it never, never shall reco- 
ver. If you are enticed by your own desires or by the arts of others, 
RESIST, as you would resist an attack upon your life, fly from the 
temptation — fight against the insidious passion, trample it under your 
feet and grind it to powder. When you are sailing by the rocks of 
the Sirens, trust not your ears to the soul-subduing song; but like 
Ulysses and his crew, stop fast your ears and let yourself be bound 
to the mast until you have passed the danger. Or to quote you a 
better example, like the young and virtuous Joseph, snatch yourself 
forcibly away and flee far from the tempter and the temptation. Listen 
to the affectionate counsel of Solomon, the wisest of men: " My son 
attend to my words: incline thine ear unto my sayings: Enter not 
into the path of the wicked and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid 
it, pass npt by it, turn from it and pass away. Hear then, my son, 
and be wise. Be not among wine bibbers, among riotous eaters of 
flesh: for the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty. Look 
not then upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth its colour in 
the cup; at the last itbiteth like a serpent and stingeth like an ad- 
der." Oh how exactly true have miserable thousands found this to 
be, to their eternal cost. 

I mentioned that there were some habits to which your circumstan- 
ces render }ou peculiarly obnoxious, and against which therefore, 
every one among you ought to case himself in triple armour. Here I 
cannot do better than copy a passage from Dr. Paley's moral philoso- 
phy, a book which, along with some doctrines of dangerous tendency, 
contains many valuable rules for the conduct of life. " Maw," says 
this celebrated author "is a bundle of habits. There are habits not 
only of drinking, swearing, and lying, and of some other things 


which are commonly acknowledged to be habits, but of everj modifi- 
cation of action, speech and thought. There are habits of attention, 
vigilance, advertency, of a prompt obedience to the judgment occur- 
ring, or of yielding to the first impulse of passion, of extending our 
views to the future, or of resting upon the present, of indolence and 

dilatoriness, of vanity, of fretfulness, suspicion, captior.sness, of 

Govetousness, of overreaching, intriguing, projecting. In a word, 
there is not a quality or function either of body or mind, which does 

not feel the influence of tliis great law of animated nature A 

rule of life of considerable importance is, that many things ought to 
be done and abstained from solely for the sake of habit. We will 
explain ourselves by an example: A man has been brought up from 
infancy with a dread of lying. An occasion presents itself, whereat 
the expense of a little veractiy, he may divert his company, set off his 
own wit with advantage, attract the notice and engage the partiality 
of all around him. This is not a small temptation. And when he 
looks at the other side of the question he sees no mischief that can 
ensue from this liberty, no slander of any man's reputation, no pre- 
judice likely to arise to any man's interest. Were there nothing fur- 
ther to be considered, it would be difficult to show why a man under 
such circumstances might not indulge his humour. But when he re- 
flects that his scruples about lying have hitherto preserved him free 
from this vice; that occasions like the present will return, where the 
inducement will be equally strong but the indulgence much less in- 
nocent, that his scruples will wear away by a few transgressions and 
leave him subject to one of the meanest and most pernicious of all 
bad habits — a habit of lying whenever it will serve his turn: when all 
this. I say, is considered, a wise man will forego the present, or a 
much greater pleasure, rather than lay the foundation of a character 
so vicious and contemptible." 

I quote this passage, not with entire approbation, because I think, 
whenever we are tempted to a deviation from truth, even in trifles, 
that a regard for the sacredness of truth, an abhorrence for falsehood, 
a reverence for conscience and a fear of God, ought at once to rebuke 
away the plausible deceit, independently of the consideration that it 
will lay the foundation for a bad habit. But the reflections suggest- 
ed by Dr. Paley, may well come in as powerful auxiliaries, to back 
the instant and spontaneous refusal of an honest mind. They are 
reflections too, which might probably operate with considerable force 
on many who think very lightly of occasional falsehood in trifles. 


Such persons should weigh well the daiigei' of trifling with a tender 
conscience — of diminishing that awful veneration for truth which we 
ought to cultivate — of gradually breaking down the barrier in our 
moral feelings between right and wrong, and at length of violating truth 
with as little scruple in the most important matters as at first we did in 
the smallest. Let these reflections, I beseech you have the weight 
they ought to have in cliecking that levity with which an excuse is 
fabricated for neglect of duty. It is fashionable to think and speak 
of such fabrications as not at all criminal or dishonorable — as quite 
pardonable. "It is only baffling the Faculty by presenting an excuse 
which they cannot refuse — they cannot have the face to dispute our 
word, though we can have the face to make our word unworthy of 
their confidence — we are not bound to observe faith with the Facul- 
ty." What a shocking doctrine is this, that you should not be oblig- 
ed to observe faith with any and with every one! Is this the casuis- 
try of Colleges? I hope not. I hope that not many among us have 
adopted principles so loose. For depend upon it, my youtig friends, 
that the person who can consent to violate truth whenever it suits his 
convenience to make up an excuse from collegiate duty, cannot 
have a very delicate sense of moral obligation on the score of truth, 
and it will not be surprising if he soon lose credit for veracity with 
his companions. In all communities there will be some who will fall 
in with every vicious habit that happens to be fashionable, and 
will carry it just as far as they dare carry it, without forfeiting their 
character. They have no fixed principles, no firm integrity of pur- 
pose, no independent rule of action, no settled habit of doing what is 
right at once, without waiting to see if public opinion will not coun- 
tenance an aberration. Such persons are mere moral chameleons;* 
they take their complexion from surrounding objects. Let them 
be at Rome, they will be like those at Rome; or if at Botany Bay, 
their plastic character can easily be moulded into an assimilation 
with the manners and morals of that famed colony of convicts. Let 
it be the fashion to swear, to drink, to seduce, to fight duels, to spend 
their money in gaming and have none to pay honest debts with, to 
break, and live in the same style after their bankruptcy as before, 
these obsequious apes of the mode, without a moments' hesitation give 

* As the chameleon which is known 
To have no colours of his own; 
But borrows from his neighbour's hue, 
His white or black, his green or blue. — Prior. 


into follies and vices that chance to prevail and are glad when the 
laxity of public morals v/ill prevent such practices from rendering 
them infamous. Now these persons are withheld from the worst 
actions only by the fear of disgrace. They are not ashamed to com- 
mit the acts themselves, but only ashamed of the detection of them. 
If a person has contracted such principles in a college, wonder not if 
in subsequent life you find him careless of veracity.* 

I might enter upon the same course of reasoning with regard to 
many other bad habits, such as swearing, idleness, encroachment 
upon your neighbor's time, making a joke of taking any article of a 
fellow student's property, &c. These things are done thoughtlessly, 
but must injure the delicacy of moral principle; they must gradually 
impair virtuous sensibility j or, as Mr. Burke beautifully expresses 
it, "that chastity of honor which dreads a stain like a wound." Let 
me advise you, whenever wrong practices prevail in college, not 
slavishly to fall in with them, and say: "Why, nothing is more 
common ainong us; nothing is thought of such things." Rather op- 
pose the weight of your influence and example against such practices, 
and if you should be singular, dare to be singular in a good cause; 

Eather stand up assured, with conscious pride 
Alone, than err with millions on your side. 

But I pass over all other habits as of minor importance, that I may 
occupy the remainder of my time in speaking of one more dangerous 
and fatal than all the rest. You cannot be ignorant that I allude to 
the appetite for spirituous liquors. That the most powerful argu- 
ments and expostulations, against this propensity are much needed 
in every college is unhappily too well known. It is wonderful that 
when the whole country is covered with monuments of ruin produced 
by intemperance — of intellectual and moral worth once high in dig- 
nity, now abject and prostrate — of families once happy and prosper- 

• During the last war, I happened to travel, in one of our public conveyances, 
with a young officer of the army. Having occasion to stop in one of the cities, 
I accompanied him into a shop where he inquired the price of a sword. He 
declined purchasing then, but told the shop-keeper he would "step in to- 
morrow and look at them again," when he knew that we were to depart in a 
few hours! I blushed for him, that a soldier, whose glory it is to scorn whatever 
is false and disingenuous, should value truth so little. Will you saj', this was a 
trifle? Well, so was the temptation a trifle, and I am not sure that the same 
man, upon the occurrence of a great temptation with the hope of concealment, 
would not have lied in the most important matter. Yet if a person had offered 
to doubt this man's word on any occasion, he would have been ready to run 
him through the body. 


ous, now helpless, broken-hearted and struggling for subsistence — it 
is wonderful that young men, seeing so many of these monitory 
spectacles before them, will venture to taste the liquid poison whic h 
has spread around them this desolation. Yet strange to tell, they 
will rush upon the peril without even the temptation of appetite. 
Yes, many a youth, it is to be feared, has here* begun to drink when 
he had a positive dislike to the taste of spirits, merely for the sake 
of appearing sociable and manly. But soon he pays dearly for his 
temerity and vain-glory. Soon the insidious passion fastens itself 
upon him — he contracts a liking for stimulating drink, which perhaps 
shows its immediate eftects in slackening his exertions in his class 
creating an aversion to labor, a distaste for his studies, and a fondness 
for idle company. No wonder now at the oft alleged excuse of sick- 
ness, for absence from duty. For what else can be expected after 
such indulgences, but lassitude, and drowsiness, and nausea? No 
wonder if, presently, college restraints and requisitions become in" 
tolerable, and an application is made to his parent, requesting that 
he may be permitted to return home, in the midst of his collegiate 
course. Then may we predict his impending ruin with mournful 
certainty, and resign him up with despair to the despotism of a habit 
which overleaps all the barriers that parents and trustees and pre- 
ceptors could throw in its way! May I not be speaking to some now, 
who are conscious that this habit has obtained an almost complete 
ascendancy over them? Do they not feel its despotism over the will? 
Do they not find themselves totally unable to resist the cravings of 
appetite, although they know the danger of the habit that is growing 
upon them? They know it, but alas! it is too late; the pleasure of 
presentgratification is all they care for, and they purposely shut their 
eyes to the probable issue of these things. But others can see it, if 
they will not. Yesj we can calculate upon the premature ruin and 
early death of such a young man with almost as much confidence, as 
if the deep, hollow cough, the hectic flush and the wasted form 
marked him out as the victim of consumption: I say with almost as 

• The writer would not be understood to intimate that the habits of the 
students whom he addressed were worse, or their temptations greater than 
those of members of colleges generally. He feels it as due to them to say on 
the contrary, that a Temperance Society embracing a considerable number of 
the students belongs to the college, and that he believes parents encounter no 
greater risk in venturing their sons at this than at any other similar institution. 
So far as he has had an opportunity of discovering, an appetite for drink is as 
little indulged in this college as in any other. 


much certainty; because the very same experience that teaches us the 
laws of the natural world, teaches us the laws of the moral world. The 
very same observation that makes us know the cough, the hectic 
flush, the wasted form, the hemorrhage from the lungs to be alarming 
prognostics of dissolution, enables us also to know that the morning 
dram, the evening carousal, the secreted bottle, the tainted breath, 
the flushed or the pale face, the ill-gotten lesson, are alarming pre- 
sages of a habit of incurable intemperance. And we anticipate the 
speedy and mournful issue of the one, with as little danger of mistake 
as the issue of the other. 

Will then any one who is sensible of being in the very jeopardy 
I describe, say, "What must I do to be saved?" 1 reply, even symp- 
toms of consumption have been removed by an early resort to the 
proper means. And it is with this very hope of your taking a timely 
alarm, and adopting the proper means of recovery that I ring these 
admonitions in your ears. I would depict with all my powers the 
terrible danger of an incipient habit; that those yet free may keep 
free; may come not nigh the slippery verge; and I would sound a 
still louder alarm of the awful issue of confirmed habit, to those who 
are just beginning to feel its force, I would say to them: feel and act 
as if you were sliding with smooth and pleasant motion down a moun- 
tain's icy breast, that overhung a yawning abyss. You are beginning 
to descend; but the declivity is yet gradual, the way is smooth, and 
your motion is not rapid enough to alarm you, but only sufficiently 
so to animate your spirits, and to excite a glorying ot mind at the 
bravery of your enterprise. Your older and more experienced friends 
stand on tlie nighboring heights, and watch with considerable anxiety 
your thoughtless career. They cry out to you, and tell you of the 
precipice ahead. I3e advised; 'et not their warning voice be neg- 
lected; throw yourself from the flying vehicle that is hurrying you to 
destruction; grasp at every twig that will arrest your progress, and 
strain every muscle and sinew to regain the summit from which you 
so heedlessly set out. But if you refuse; if you laugh at the idle 
fear of your friends; if you flatter yourself that you can stop long 
before you reach the precipice; all they can do is to look on with 
silent agony at the approaching catastrophe. They could tell you if 
you would hear them, that the declivity is every moment becoming 
steeper; that the velocity of a falling body is every moment accele- 
rated; that the twigs along your path which once might have arrested 
you, will now snap in an instant before the violence of your motion, 


and onward, onward, onward you must go until you reach the verge, 
then take the awful leap and disappear forever! And if such a fate 
as I have described were to befall you, in the literal sense of the 
description, it would be less mournful than that it should befiill you 
I in the allegorical sense intended. For then you miglit die compara- 
I lively innocent and respectable. Your friends might not see your 
mangled corpse, nor feel disgraced by your death. But who can do 
justice to the feelings of those parents whose son, just ripening into 
manhood, is dying before their eyes, the loathsome victim of his guilty 
excesses! How shall they escape from the hideous spectacle? Their 
own house, the only place they have to lay their head, the birth place 
of their children, the spot where are clustered all their comforts, the 
peaceful sanctuary of their old age, becomes the hospital of their 
reprobate son, worn out with intemperance. He occupies one of the 
chambers. There, while they lie on their sleepless beds in a neigh- 
I boring room, (I have witnessed something of what I describe) they 
I hear his calls for drink, his disgusting belches, his horrid execrations 
against himself, and ever and anon a groan, bespeaking misery too 
big for words to tell! And is this the return you make degraded 
young men, for all the loving-kindness of your parents? Is this the 
way you requite the father that dandled your infancy on his knee, 
and from that time till the present has been toiling to provide for 
your happiness? Is this your gratitude to the mother that brought you 
into the world, that cherished you at her breast, that tended your 
cradle with throbbing temples and an aching heart, that watclied you 
all along your playful boyhood with ceaseless tenderness, and that at 
length let you go from under her eye to a place of education, only 
-from the confidence (a confidence alas too much misplaced) that the 
principles and the gratitude with which she had imbued you, would 
forever forbid you to distress her by a vicious life? Surely this, if 
any thing in the world, realizes the fable of the frozen viper; that, 
as soon as it was thawed into life, struck its envenomed fangs into 
the bosom that warmed it. 

But I would not stop at the exhibition of the temporal, the earthly 
consequences of this worst of habits. Could I do it, I would disturb 
the slumbers of the dead — I would evoke from their tombs the myriads 
that have gone down thither before their time, the victims of drunk- 
enness. I would array their ghastly spectres in a long line before 
you, sire by the side of son, and brother at the right hand of brother. 
I could call upon them to tell you of the first steps that led to their 



undoing; bow they first trifled with their enemy — how they in 
thoughtless boyhood mixed with idle company; made drunkenness a 
subject of jesting; took a glass among their jovial friends, merely to 
appear social and manly when the liquor was not pleasant to their 
taste — how the appetite grew with every indulgence until it was im- 
possible to deny it — until they themselves became the very beastly 
spectacles of intemperance they had been accustomed to look upon 
with loathing and contempt; how they lingered upon earth, becoming 
more and more the sorrow and shame of their friends, and at last 
sunk unregretted to the grave. I would extort from them " the 
secrets of their prison house." I would make them appear before 
you surrounded with their atmosphere of tempestuous fire — open 
before you their tortured breasts and disclose within the never-dying 
worm gnawing on their hearts — tell you with their burning tongues 
the horrors of their doom, and peal in your trembling ears the decla- 
ration of the Almighty, that drunkards shall lie down in the " lake 
that burneth with fire and brimstone for ever and ever." I should 
hope that such a vision would make you shun for life, the sight, smell 
and taste of inebriating liquors. Oh! in the contemplation of the 
manifold and diretul miseries that flow from this bane of the human 
race, one might be tempted to curse the memory of the man. that first 
invented the art of distillation; of extracting death from God's good 
creatures, intended to be the nourishers of life. One might be tempted 
to wish that every distiller of spirits, and every vender of spirits, and 
every drinker of spirits, could have their midnight slumbers haunted 
by the apparitions of pale widows and orphans in their robes of 
mourning, and by the horrible skeletons of their poisoned husbands 
sons and brothers, until their goaded consciences should drive them 
with unanimous movement, to seize every vessel containing the liquid 
poison and throw it into a funeral pile, to make one general pieus 
burnt-offering to Heaven, while the art of manufacturing the accursed 
pest should forever be blotted from the memory of man. But why 
v;ish for terrifying visions of the dead to benefit the living? They 
will never be granted. Nor are we sure that they would prove the 
means of reformation. For what says Christ, that divine anatomist 
of the human heart? "If they believe not Moses and the prophets 
neither will they be persuaded if one rose from the dead." Bowing 
with unquestioning credence to the divine decision, and feeling deeply 
the utter impotency of man to help himself when sunk in evil habits, 
let us rather urge the poor slave ot sin to look with imploring eye to 


the Heavens, and let us join our supplications to his that the Al- 
mighty's arm may be stretched down to "lift him out oi" the horrible 
pit, and out of the miry clay," and to put into his mouth the song of 

Before I conclude 1 must take notice of a doctrine held by many, 
sometimes even urged from the pulpit, which seems to lie as an ob- 
jection to the argument we have been endeavoring to enforce- It is 
said that God can as easily convert a hardened profligate as the most 
correct moralist; nay, that the former will much more probably be 
awakened from his security than tlie latter, because the very enormity 
of his sins serves as an alarm-bell to shake his sleepy conscience, or 
as the sting of scorpions to rack him with fierce pains of intolerable 
remorse; and hence we hear it sometimes incautiously asserted that 
the man of sober, respectable character is in more danger of final 
perdition than the abandoned, confirmed libertine. What is the di- 
rect tendency of such a belief? Why to establish the dangerous 
paradox, that the more a man sins the better for himself — it will 
quicken his conscience and arm it with mighty energy to drive him 
from his evil courses; and thus his chance of salvation will be increased 
the deeper and deeper he plunges into iniquity. What an awful 
license such a belief must give to vicious propensities, what an 
additional impulse it must lend to the already imperious rage of 
appetite may easily be conceived. And yet nothing is more certain, 
if we are to believe our text and the facts occurring to our daily ob- 
servation, that the more a man sins the harder he grows, that every 
new sin stupifies and indurates the conscience, renders a man's 
retreat more difiicult and improbable, and his final ruin more fatally 
certain. We may illustrate the two cases thus. Heaping sin after 
sin upon the conscience, may be compared to heaping green wood 
upon a few coals. The more you throw on, the more you crush the coals, 
and the greater danger of putting out the fire altogether. If, however, 
the feeble heat should not expire under this incumbent weight, but 
should by great good fortune once ignite the wood contiguous to it, 
then all the oppressive heap serves as so much aliment to feed the 
flame, and to increase the greatness and heat of the fire. So a profli- 
gate's conscience has the almost certain prospect of being seared in 
final obduracy. But if by one of those astonishing acts of God's 
special mercy which it pleases him sometimes to work for the display 
of his power and goodness, that profligate's conscience is av/akened 
it will be apt to operate more powerfully upon him — apt to produce 


more awful agonies ot fear, more convulsive struggles to effect an 
escape, deeper humiliation, and if he obtains pardon, more ecstatic 
gratitude, that such an enormous transgressor has been spared and 
purified and blessed. He has had much forgiven, he will therefore 
love much. But let every man beware how he tries the dreadful 
experiment of sinning in order to furnish himself with materials for 
repentance. Enough of these the most blameless will tiind who study 
the holy law of God, and compare it with the evil that is in their 
hearts. That delicacy of conscience which is the fruit and the re- 
ward of a moral life, will by the aid of God's Spirit, enable you to 
have a quicker and livelier feeling of what is evil, and to find as 
copious a source of godly sorrow and humiliation in the secret sins 
of your heart, as the gross transgressor finds in the recollection of 
his scarlet and crimson sins. Never have I heard from the lips, 
never have I read in the secret diary of any penitent prodigal, such 
deep, heart-touching confessions of inward depravity and self-loathing, 
as appears in the journals of Edwards and Brainerd and Martyn and 
Payson, men who were preserved comparatively pure and free of 
vicious habits from their tender years. The profligate may escapej 
but he will have reason to remember all his life time, that he has 
escaped as by fire. Like one of Milton's infernal potentates, he 
bears on his marred visage the signals of his unrighteous battle with 

His face 

Deep scars of thunder have intrenched. 
— He will have cause to bemoaa while he lives his career of profli- 
gacy. He will be " made to possess the iniquities of his youth"* 
in bodily diseases, a shattered constitution, shame for past dishonor, 
past injuries to others — injuries alas! irreparable; injuries to those 
who are dead, and therefore out of the reach of his tardy retribution 
— injuries to those who are living, but irremediably blasted in fortune 
and reputation, or unconquerably fortified in vice and infidelity. He 
will find himself reaping the bitter fruits of early crimes, perhaps in 
the rebellion or lewd lives of his children, vitiated by his bad example 
and his cruel neglect — in a soiled and polluted imagination, and the 
pestilent and contaminating recollection of past abominations. These 
may make him go mourning all his days. To cleanse this heart, this 
Augean stable where foul lusts have held their abode for many years, 
will furnish him with Herculean labor to the end of his life. Oh what 

* Job xiii. 26. 


untimely, unwelcome intrusions will the visions of former riot make 
upon his soul, \)erhaps in his most hallowed moments, perhaps in the 
very attitude of devotion! How much work will he have to do in 
keeping out these vile thoughts? How will they with impudent free- 
dom rush unbidden into the breast that once harbored, but would 
now fain exclude them, and with their harpy touch defile the sanctuary 
of the soul, and the very offering that is there burning on the altar 
of God! 

Dirip'iunlque dapes, contacUique omnia foedant 

' Oh then will the reclaimed profligate bemoan himself that he ever 
laid up within him such materials for shame and sorrow, aud will envy 
those whose youth unstained by vice, have never entailed upon them- 
selves such an inheritance of guilty recollections. You may say that 
these things serve to humble him. Yes they do, but they often keep 
him mourning and prostrate, ashamed to lift up his head or exert his 
hands, when he ought to be up and doing, rejoicing and praising, 
and acting for his God. 

But supposing the hardened sinner's conscience to awake, is he 
sure that it will awake to repentance.^ Is he sure that it will not 
awake to horror and desperation? Is he sure that it will not like 
Cain's drive him out from the presence of God? That he will not 
quickly draw down again over his eyes, the vail which had been for 
a moment drawn up, but disclosed prospects too horrible for contem- 
plation? Is he sure that an insulted, aggrieved and outraged conscience 
will not like the ill-boding owl, scream in his ears the shrill note of 
despair, of sin beyond the reach of God's mercy, sin inexpiable even 
by the blood of Christ, until it urges him like Judas over the preci- 
pice of self-murder!